The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (kind of)

Here it comes, the post that’s been percolating in the back of my mind for the last couple of weeks.

So, I mentioned in a previous post how the University of the Philippines Open University has an online course on Philippine culture. In the comments, Aries told me about a similar program, where Filipino American university students can travel to the Philippines and take a compressed course in Philippine Studies.

What’s especially fascinating about these courses are that they are specificallly aimed at second generation Filipino Americans. They are an attempt to incorporate Filipinos in diaspora into the story of the Philippine nation-state.

As I’ve mentioned before, in older conceptions of nationalism and the nation-state, the nation is equated with the territory the nation-state controls. Filipinos are people from the Philippines; the Philippines is where Filipinos are from. This circular argument becomes unhinged when you consider that a lot of Filipinos actually live outside the Philippines — 8 million by the last count, or 10 percent of the population of the Philippines, though that estimate only counts Overseas Foreign Workers and not Filipino citizens of those other countries.

This is not a new situation by any means. Diasporas have existed for a long time. Consider that the term “diaspora” originally referred to the Jewish dispersal from Israel by the Romans, which occurred about 2 000 years ago. What is different is the way that diasporas are thought about. Simply a fact of life before, diasporas are now a problem, since they have no place within the ideology of nationalism and the fiction of the nation-state. If a nation-state is supposed to represent a single people, then how does it handle the existence of other people within its territory?

The answer is: “Not very well.” Nation-states, when confronted with the reality of “other” people living in their territory, do everything in their power to make those “other” people invisible. It can be as directly brutal as the way Native Americans have been violently suppressed in the United States, and it can be as subtle as not portraying black people in movies.

But wait, black people are portrayed in American media today. Why, there’s even a channel called Black Entertainment Television. The older form of nationalism (one land, one people) is being replaced with a more complex form called multiculturalism (one land, one people composed of many people). The motto of multiculturalism might be “E Pluribus Unum”: Out of Many, One. That is to say, one nation is constructed out of parts of many others. One people (Americans) composed of many different peoples (African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, etc). There are many criticisms which can be made of multicultural ideology, but one of the things it does is promote the expression of identities beside a single national identity.

Which brings us to the case of Filipino Americans. Here they are, being Filipino outside the Philippines. Here they are, making money, a lot of which they send to the Philippines. If the Philippine nation-state is supposed to represent Filipinos, how does it speak for Filipinos outside the Philippines? More pragmatically, how can the Philippines profit from these outsider Filipinos? I say “outsider”, since calling them overseas Filipinos implies that they’re all from the Philippines, which isn’t the case with the second generation. So, how can these outsider Filipinos be incorporated within the story of the Philippine nation-state?

First, you have to create within outsider Filipinos a sense of connection to the Philippines. The school system is one of the major ways in which residents of a country are taught to become attached to that country, and here it is being used to promote nationalism again. This is not a neutral act, it is suffused with political concerns (then again, a lot of things are). A lot of Filipinos outside the Philippines send money to the country (actually, to their relatives there), but they could also do a lot more. Like, for instance, lobbying on behalf of the Philippines on the government of their host country. These courses on the Philippines are partly strategic investments in second generation Filipino Americans by the Philippine nation-state. One might object by saying that these projects are actually run the University of the Philippines, not the Philippine government. However, UP certainly receives government funding, and even if the university was not directly ordered to create the courses by the government, part of the reason behind the development of these courses was out of a sense of nationalism which inevitably means doing things for the betterment of one’s country. Which is to say that being a Philippine nationalist often means doing things that will benefit the Philippines. None of which is necessarily good or bad, but it’s important to realize the political context of things.

4 Replies to “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (kind of)”

  1. I should point out that many of the staff of the program, like Robert Roy of the Philippine Forum, are anything but Filipino nationalists. Marxists, possibly, but not nationalsts. They’re pretty left-of-center and were involved in a lot of the Estrada resignation protests in the United States a few years back. Does having a particular interest in the betterment of a certain group of people necessarily equal nationalism? Can one support Filipinos without supporting the Philippine state? (or be “American”, in my case, and not necessarily be a state supporter?).

  2. Ah yes, I should have known my sloppiness before was going to come back to bite me in the ass. The whole government = state thing is here to demand vengeance.

    Anyway, Aries, you’ve certainly asked an interesting question. I think it’s entirely possible to be a nationalist rooting for a nation-state in the abstract without necessarily rooting for a certain government in the specific. You brought up the case of Marxists, so let’s consider Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnames communists. They fought against the government in Vietnam (the French colonial administration), but they did so because they wanted Vietnam to be ruled by Vietnamese. In other words, they wanted national self-determination, which is an explicit part of nationalist agendas. Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist as well a communist, and the war against the French and the Americans and the South Vietnamese can be seen as wars over nationalism just as much as wars over communism.

    Or consider the French Revolution, which I talk about in the next post. Louis XVI was France’s head of state, but the revolutionaries fought against him and his royalist forces. Who were the revolutionaries fighting for, if not the French nation? Actually, the paper by Comay I’m quoting from examines how the French nation was constructed by the French Revolution, but let’s just leave that little complication alone.

    Or think about stateless peoples like the Jews before WWII. From the 19th century onwards, Zionists had been pushing for the creation of a Jewish state on behalf of the Jewish nation. What else could they be but Jewish nationalists?

    So, nationalism does not need a state for it to exist. However, diasporas are interesting for how they intersect with nationalism. Aries, you might want to read When Georges Woke Up Laughing for an examination of these issues (it deals with the Haitian diaspora as well as historical transnationalism in the US). The specific type of nationalism practiced by diasporic individuals is called long-distance nationalism and accounting for it is one of the theoretical projects of our time.

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